It’s the season for Volleyball in Japan

2001 winners China with their cheque for USD 300,000

November 13, 2005 – The leaves may be changing colour in Tokyo and decorating the sidewalks as autumn turns to winter, but some things stay the same.

Yes, Volleyball is in the air, and China are back in town, and the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup 2005 is just around the corner.

The six women’s teams for this quadrennial event were safely ensconced in the official players’ hotel in time for dinner on Sunday evening, and, across town, Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium was being spruced up ready for the opening matches on Tuesday.

Competition will be fierce on a world and regional level, but this does not mean friendships cannot be made and renewed among the players.

Just witness the scene in the lobby of the team hotel on Sunday evening.

Two of Japan’s most talented and youngest players, Saori Kimura and Kana Oyama -- Athens Olympic veterans at 19 and 21 years of age, respectively – were busy signing autographs for star-struck fans.

When a cold blast entered the lobby, followed by the Korean team returning from training, the Japanese pair were busy chatting.

On a political and historical level, these two countries could hardly be described as the best of friends, especially in the current climate.

But when Oyama recognized a Korean player from a previous encounter, she jumped from her comfortable armchair for a heartfelt embrace, proving again that sport can rise above such worldly problems.

The Korean delegation included another young talent in 17-year-old high school student Kim Yeon-Kyoung, who earned her promotion to the senior ranks as Korea’s inspirational captain in the FIVB Girls’ Under 18 World Championship in Macau, China, in July. Remaining politely and quietly on the sidelines, Kim was introduced to the two Japanese rivals by her teammate, as more sporting bridges were built between the two countries.

On the second floor of the team hotel, meanwhile, officials were busy registering the players and completing the paper work in time for Monday’s general technical meeting and official press conference with the six head coaches.

The one new team of the six is Poland, who qualified for the fourth edition of the Grand Champions Cup as European champions.

When asked how he felt about the competition, head coach Andrzej Niemczyk said he knew what to expect.

“There’s no difference to the Grand Prix or the World Cup. It’s the same teams,” he said.

“My maximum plan is to finish in third position, and if we play well I think we can make it.”

Niemczyk said China and Brazil, who will contest the first match on Tuesday, stood out above the rest, but he thought the Poles could beat Japan, Korea and the United States.

As the reigning Olympic champions and Grand Champions Cup holders, China will be the team to beat, along with Brazil, who won the World Grand Prix Final Round in Sendai, Japan, in the summer.

But this is another Volleyball competition…and another season.

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